Bicameral Bill for Protecting Civilians in US Military Operations. On April 28, a group of Democratic and Independent Senators and House members proposed legislation to demand that Department of Defense establish mechanisms to report on civilian casualties during American military operations overseas. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) introduced S.4108 with cosponsors Richard Durbin (D-Illinois), Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont). In the House, Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colorado) proposed H.R.7621 with cosponsors Sara Jacobs (D-California), Tom Malinowski (D-New Jersey), and Ro Khanna (D-California). Among the requirements of the legislation is a report about how the Defense Department differentiated “between combatants and civilians in United States military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen since 2001.”
House Passes “Stop Iranian Drones Act.” On April 27, the House passed the Stop Iranian Drones Act, H.R.6089, that was originally proposed by Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) on November 30, 2021. The legislation now goes to the Senate for passage. The legislation adds unmanned aerial vehicles to a group of items that are already prohibited from being sold to Iran and are subject to sanctions. The legislation had 77 Republican and Democratic cosponsors.
2) Personnel and Correspondence
Rep. McCaul Urges Biden to Conduct Iran Sanctions Review. On April 27, House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Michael McCaul (R-Texas) wrote a letter to President Joe Biden urging the administration to conduct a sanctions review before it decides to lift them off Iran as part of nuclear negotiations with the Islamic Republic. The review was included in legislation passed in 2017.
Senators Young, Van Hollen Write Blinken Re. Lebanon. On April 28, Senators Todd Young (R-Indiana) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) wrote to Secretary of State Antony Blinken to urge the Biden Administration to engage Lebanon to ensure that the upcoming parliamentary elections there are fair and transparent.
Lawmakers Worried about Christians in Jerusalem. On April 29, Reps. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) and Gus Bilirakis (R-Florida) spearheaded a letter to Secretary Blinken from a bipartisan group of House members that warned about violence against Christians in Jerusalem. They highlighted attacks on churches and clergymen by Israeli youths and unknown assailants that they said threaten the “viability” of the Christian presence in the city.
II. Executive Branch
1) White House
President Biden Speaks to Israel’s Bennett. On April 24, President Joe Biden talked by phone to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and discussed bilateral relations, regional and global security issues, and Israel-Palestinian relations. The president accepted an invitation from Bennett to visit Israel in the next few months.
Sullivan Meets with Hulata of Israel. On April 25, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met with Israeli NSA Eyal Hulata and they discussed global and regional security issues.
Biden Calls King Abdullah II of Jordan. President Biden spoke on April 25 with Jordanian King Abdullah II to discuss efforts to reduce the violence in Israel and Palestine following recent events in Jerusalem’s al-Haram al-Sharif. The two leaders discussed the need to maintain the historic and agreed status quo in the old city.
2) State Department
Multilateral Meeting on Syria in Paris. On April 28, a multilateral meeting on Syria was held in Paris by representatives of Arab countries and the Arab League, the European Union, France, Germany, Norway, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The meeting issued a statement reiterating commitment to alleviating the conditions of the Syrian people and refugees in host countries, support for the mission of United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen, and the importance of securing humanitarian assistance to those who need it inside the country. The meeting may have been to prepare for the possibility that Russia may refuse to renew the opening of the Bab al-Hawa crossing point between Turkey and Syria in July.
DoS Condemns 2013 Syrian Massacre. DoS spokesperson Ned Price issued a statement in which the United States condemned a massacre by the Syrian regime in 2013 of civilians seen in a video being led to a mass graves and shot. The video was additional evidence of war crimes committed by the Assad regime over ten years of civil war.
Blinken Speaks with Omani Foreign Minister. Secretary Blinken spoke with Oman’s Foreign Minister Sayyid Badr al-Busaidi on April 27 to thank him for Oman’s work on regional issues, specifically the ceasefire in Yemen.
Deputy Rep. to the UN Speaks on Syria. Ambassador Richard Mills, the Deputy US Representative to the United Nations, spoke on April 26 about the humanitarian crisis in Syria and emphasized the importance of renewing UN Security Council Resolution 2582 allowing cross-border deliveries of aid into Syria through the Bab al-Hawa border point.
3) United States Commission on International Religious Freedom
USCIRF Issues Its Annual Report. The commission issued its annual report in which it highlighted some “Countries of Particular Concern,” including Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. For Iran, the report said that “religious freedom conditions…remain poor,” mentioning such issues as prosecution of individuals for “insulting the Prophet,” imprisonment of Christians, Bahai’s, and Sunnis, and harassment and detention of women. For Saudi Arabia, the report mentioned some improvements in women’s conditions and school curriculum changes but decried such violations as detentions and executions of Shia Muslims, imprisonment of people with different religious views, and protesters against guardianship laws. For Syria, the report mentioned the Syrian regime’s subsuming of the Sunni religious authority under its auspices and forcing Yazidis to worship under the Islamic religion.